New rules: dogs in parks
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Sonoma had a population of 10,741 people in July 2011.
According to unofficial, anecdotal observations, Sonoma may have at least that many dogs. That is, of course, a slight exaggeration. There could be more. We’re not sure. But we are sure this is a profoundly dog-loving community,and, paradoxically, it’s not all that dog-friendly.
At least that’s the opinion of numerous local (and non-local) dog owners recently cited by police for providing their pooches access to Sonoma’s officially dog-free parks.
Angry letter writers have attacked police and the City Council for the sudden surge in rigorous enforcement of laws, long on the books, prohibiting dogs on- or off-leash in any city parks. The only city-owned property where canines can run free is the miniscule dog park across from the police station near the Field of Dreams.
These restrictions rankle countless dog owners who complain that the options for outdoor dog walking are severely limited. Besides city parks, dogs are also prohibited on the Overlook Trail, a lavishly scenic, close-to-three-mile loop that circles above Mountain Cemetery, and they can’t set a paw in the Montini Open Space Preserve, 98 acres of dog-tempting hillside framing the northern boundary of Sonoma.
They can, of course, walk on-leash along the bike path and the Nathanson Creek Trail Corridor, but they can’t run and romp.
The one significant outdoor option proximate to city limits is Maxwell Farms Regional Park, where dogs are allowed on a six-foot leash. For any other dog-friendly outdoor experience you have to travel up to the Sonoma Valley Regional Park in Glen Ellen, where dogs can walk the one-mile asphalt path or run free in the one-acre Elizabeth Perrone Dog Park.
Then there’s the adjacent reservoir loop trail on Sonoma Developmental Center property where dogs are officially prohibited but unofficially ignored.
On balance, Sonoma is not without dog-walking opportunities, although they aren’t evenly distributed in places convenient to many residents.
Prohibiting four-footed access to any of the city’s 14 parks does impose what feels like unnecessary confinement on the canine populace.
That may soon change, as the City Council on Monday will consider a revised ordinance governing “animal care and control” that proposes to open all city parks except the Plaza and the Overlook Trail to leashed dog access.
The revised ordinances also addresses a variety of other dog issues – including the thoughtful inclusion of the word “care” in the title of animal control – and modifies the rules governing so-called “vicious and potentially dangerous dogs.” It also eliminates the permit requirement for keeping chickens, rabbits and bees in city limits.
The ordinance revisions were culled from suggestions and feedback at a community workshop in October 2011 attended by representatives of SVDOG, Pets Lifeline, Police Chief Bret Sackett and other community members.
We like the gist of the changes, we hope they’re adopted, and you can add your opinion to the discussion at Monday’s meeting: 6 p.m. in the Community Meeting Room at 177 First St. W.